Before there was “Dick Clark’s Rockin’Eve,” and before there was “New Year’s Eve with Carson Daly,” there was only one man who owned the annual celebration in Times Square: Mr. Guy Lombardo. Along with the Royal Canadians, Bandleader Guy Lombardo was known for his big band, swing style of music and for making New Year’s Eve a night to remember.
Beginning in 1929 on radio, and then transitioning to TV in the 1950’s all the way through 1976, the year prior to his death, Mr. Lombardo’s name was synonymous with the world-famous celebration in Times Square. What’s more, he and he alone is credited with popularizing the use of “Auld Lang Syne” at New Year’s celebrations in America.
Well, as far as my family was concerned, New Year’s Eve just wasn’t New Year’s Eve without watching Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians ring in the New Year on TV. How we looked forward to tuning in and watching him entertain us with his warm, homey smile and his baton at the ready. His music had a smooth style, easy on the ears, and he rang in the New Year with a panache and elegance that hasn’t quite been seen since, and is long gone from our cultural landscape.
I remember looking forward to watching Guy Lombardo on TV. When he came on live from the Roosevelt Hotel or later, from the Waldorf Astoria, it meant the New Year would be here soon. Like any kid, I loved being able to stay up. Even though we were in Queens, just a subway ride away from Times Square, we never got to see the ball drop in person. I suppose my family wasn’t interested in being pushed and shoved by the crowds the evening’s festivities would attract, or standing outside in the cold, frigid Manhattan air. So, from the comfort of our home, wearing our flannel pajamas, we’d gather around the black and white television console like millions of Americans, to watch Mr. Lombardo conduct the Royal Canadians.
For Guy Lombardo was and always will be Mr. New Year’s Eve. And somewhere, up in the sky, at this time of year, he must be holding his baton again and smiling. I bet anything, he’s thrilled to pieces to know that we’re still singing his signature song, “Auld Lang Syne.” Let’s take a cup of kindness yet and let’s sing another chorus for Guy Lombardo and for all the memories he gave so many of us. And, let’s give a toast for the delight he brought to the greatest generation and to those of us who are their children. Those of us who remember.
Indeed, thinking of Guy Lombardo on this night of all nights, brings me back to our little brownstone in Flushing. When we were young and greeting a new year was still exciting, and not necessarily a reminder of getting older and the sands of time slipping away sort of thing.
Happy New Year, Mr. Lombardo. Happy New Year, Everyone!